The Importance of Cultural Fit

Have you ever joined an organization – personally or professionally – and realized after a short time, that you just don’t ‘fit in’? Or have you ever joined a company – loved it and the culture – only to have the culture shift so much over time that is it hardly recognizable and it does not represent or mirror your core values? I have – and it can be a miserable experience. I have also hired individuals whom I thought had the skill set we needed; only to realize later that they did not ‘fit’ culturally. That is a horrible realization, as most of us know; a person’s capabilities and skills are NOT the most important aspect in the hiring process. When an individual does not fit into the organizational or managerial culture, the costs can be huge on many levels.

I have had numerous clients over the years where their lack of alignment to the organization in which they work impeded their ability to succeed in their jobs; not to mention their level of dissatisfaction and happiness in their daily routines. The focus of this article is not how to help the individual maneuver through their lack of alignment; rather, I want to offer two strategic suggestions for you AND your organization to avoid or reduce the lack of alignment in the ranks.

First, when first hiring and on-boarding employees, watch and listen for what the individual wants, needs, and expects from their new position and the overall company. Typically, even the most inept leaders can tell in the first 90-100 days how a person is going to fit into the team. Many ignore the signs of stress, disconnects, and overall lack of alignment of values, believing it will resolve itself overtime. This is a mistake. As leaders, we own helping these individuals shift into roles, positions, and attitudes to help set the stage for success.

Coupled with this approach, we need to consider our company’s culture when we are interviewing for candidates. If we have a strong culture of collaboration for example; we need to make sure we uncover how people work in teams. Hiring a manager who is accustomed to ‘tops-down’ leadership would be a disaster in this environment. It sounds simple, but we all know how often this is ignored. There are many ways to help a person align into the company; such as, rotational assignments, exposure to other functional units and tasks, involvement in strategic discussions, and even assigning mentors to help with the integration. To not embrace newly hired individuals is a missed opportunity; and one that ultimately can cost the company time and money.

Also, misalignment can evolve over time. Company cultures change, company leadership changes, and the overall strategic direction can change. Each of these scenarios can provide fertile ground for even the most loyal employees to find themselves out of alignment. We have to pay attention and stay engaged with our employees so that we understand where we collectively stand. This can be accomplished through town hall meetings, frequent surveys and interviews, and even hiring executive coaches to help bridge the gap of understanding and alignment. I have been present in more than one company where the senior leadership wakes up one day and find themselves facing mutiny from key valued employees due to their lack of awareness and alignment to what these employees expect, need, and want. It is not only the job of human resources to help facilitate this awareness. It is our job, as leaders in our organizations, to pay attention to our most valued asset, our people.

Finally, as restructurings occur and folks are jockeying for position, this can often be a wake-up call for many of us. I am a believer that all things happen for a reason – and one reason is most certainly to teach us something. Thus, if we find ourselves – or someone on our team – not fitting in, or our roles not being understood or valued, or we are simply ‘not happy’ in how the culture, role, and/or team has evolved – then we must take a hard look at the reality. It may our wake-up call to reevaluate where we are and where we want to go. This has happened in every single leadership role I had. When the tides turned either due to structural change or cultural change or I personally had ‘lost the plot’…..then it was time for me to look inward and determine WHAT, WHERE, and HOW do I want to contribute professionally going forward. And no, this is anything but ‘failure’…..this is simply the ‘next step’ and EVERYTHING we are doing and have done is preparing us for the next big thing in our professional lives.

“Fitting in” is not a ‘nice to have’ perk of the job. It is a required necessity for our employees and our organizations to experience alignment AND achieve sustainable and fulfilling success. And when we realize we (or those we lead) do not (and do not want to!) fit in – we must make the pivotal decision to expand our boundaries and look beyond the current hamster wheel on which we are running.